Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A few thoughts on Nuclear Energy and Renewables...

No matter how much some of us would wish otherwise there is no way we can markedly reduce the amount of energy that our civilization uses by any stretch of imagination.

As both human population grows and new technologies develop the amount of energy required to support our civilization will increase it will not decrease. Take a look at the trends in energy usage across human history these have only increased over time.

Getting the average citizen in the street to agree to rationing or to reduce the level his/her lifestyle voluntarily is an exercise in futility that will inevitably backfire particularly in the large modern democracies. In any case bear in mind how will you keep them down in the farm once they have seen gay Paree?

And as far as the non democratic states they will be more likely to base their decisions on what they believe to be their needs and these states will more likely than not make their decision on a different set of political consideration than the democracies.

Surface based solar power and wind will not to any marked degree be a replacement for fossil fuels. Both face the problem that energy production by both these technologies face the the constraint that both their main sources of energy are subject to whims of the local weather.

Nor should we fail to consider that other than in a few spots these technologies will not be producing energy at peak efficiency. Nor will either technology produce a consistent energy output at the time and place it will be needed.

Also the ecologic footprint of both technologies is far heavier than one would think at first look. In order to mantain or equal the current energy output of fossile fuel technologies how many hundreds if not thousands of square miles of land/offshore would be required to even equal the current output from both Nuclear and fossil fuels?

Take the time to ponder the impact on fragile desert ecosystems of endless square miles of solar panel arrays. Also consider the impact on both bird and bat populations of wind turbines.

What would be the amount of raw materials that would be needed to manufacture solar panels? (Silicon, aluminum, iron, copper,assorted rare earth elements, and polymers) Or what amount of materials would be needed to manufacture wind turbines? (Carbon fiber, iron, aluminum, copper, rare earth elements, and polymers)

Sadly these question have been largely ignored both by a majority of our environmental community. And our political class has proven far more adept at responding to

As a civilization we need to carefully consider all our options for energy production. And by any rational measure of consideration we can not afford to rule out or for matter abandon nuclear power as an energy source.

As for the nuclear waste issue has been grossly distorted and overblown. It can be addressed by using reprocessing spent nuclear fuels and making use fast breeder reactors to "burn" out the more radiactive byproducts of nuclear fission.

We could discard unusable nuclear waste materials in subduction zones rather than the current approach of storing them in isolated geologically stable areas. Let Earth own conveyor belt adress the issue by the time any of the material makes it back to the surface the clear majority of it will have run through it's radioactive half life and what is left would be scattered atoms embedded in cubic miles of rock.

Even though we at the present consider a particular series of byproducts of nuclear fission to be waste it doesn't necessarily follow that our descendants will consider these to be waste. They may very well find them to be of use in other ways

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